Analysis: Four part-time Xfinity Series drivers deserving of regular rides in 2022


The NASCAR Xfinity Series was a melting pot of talent in 2021. It featured drivers from different corners of auto racing in equipment of varying competitive levels. In some cases, these drivers offered mere glimpses of what they could do with more starts under their belts.

One of the biggest yearlong stories was Ty Gibbs establishing himself as a consistent win threat despite making just 18 starts. He’ll contend for the series championship in 2022. With other part-timers making a dent in their cameo appearances, he won’t be alone in this quest. Four other drivers have statistical strengths that require more cultivating.

Josh Berry, Santino Ferrucci, Preston Pardus and Sage Karam also made the most of part-time Xfinity Series opportunities this season. Positives for each of them can be quantified and another year with more frequent appearances could lead to bigger and better things.

Josh Berry

It seems everyone who encounters Berry comes away smitten. It’s one way to explain his employment, albeit some of it temporary, with seven different teams across NASCAR’s three national series this season. He earned return calls after short-notice substitutions in two instances — for Spire Motorsports in the Cup Series and filling in for injured JR Motorsports stable mate Michael Annett.

But beyond an endearing personality is a driver who proved himself as a standout long-run passer. His +5.44% surplus passing value ranked in the 99th percentile of a group containing the 12 most statistically productive Xfinity Series talents. Berry also was a restarter on par with Gibbs and AJ Allmendinger, two drivers who combined for nine wins this season:

Berry’s year contained some discernible weaknesses, though most weren’t entirely his doing. His average running position after one competitive lap (or initial position, as noted on the above graph) was around 19th, the worst initial position of this group. That’s in part due to a kink of the metric qualifying procedure utilized in 2021. If he wasn’t in a specific car the week prior, he’d start toward the rear of the field.

This made track position a consistent need for Berry. He satisfied some of the need with his long-run passing — he secured a pass differential 203 positions better than his statistical expectation. A full-time effort for JR Motorsports will eliminate this hurdle altogether while also supplying him a more consistent brand of speed and, potentially, a pit crew with a faster median four-tire box time (noted as “YF Pit Defense”), both areas for concern in his 22-race piecemeal campaign.

One other area he’ll have to address is his crashing. Wrecking or spinning 0.41 times per race this year, his crash rate fared as one of the worst of this talented group, unbecoming of a driver with championship aspirations.

Certainly, those aspirations are legitimate as the majority of his peripheral stats indicate. But given his age — he turned 31 last month — what he’s able to do right now in the Xfinity Series might not be indicative of future growth. His formative years were spent competing for championships in Late Model stock cars while a slew of younger drivers became winners, champions or top-tier producers in the Cup Series. He’s more than a few steps behind his would-be competition, if he ever reaches NASCAR’s top level on regular basis.

But for Berry, the Xfinity Series provides permanence in 2022 and that’s more than what most former part-timers ever receive. He has the quantifiable chops to make the most of this opportunity and should seriously contend for the series championship in a ride capable of such success.

Santino Ferrucci

The Connecticut-born 23-year-old with experience competing in IndyCar and Formula 2 says NASCAR was always where he wanted to end up. After his stock car debut this year, a pleasant surprise for Sam Hunt Racing in the Xfinity Series middle tier, it seems his fit with the fendered form of auto racing is natural.

Among drivers with six or more starts, Ferrucci’s 1.536 Production in Equal Equipment Rating ranked 13th, just ahead of Berry, Brett Moffitt, Ty Dillon and Harrison Burton. Ferrucci also flashed signs of potential short-run stardom. Among drivers with at least six restart attempts from inside the first seven rows, only Kyle Busch submitted a better position retention rate than Ferrucci’s 83.33% clip, the entirety of which came on choose-rule tracks.

And he did it all without a single practice lap.

“It’s really hard to do this without any track time,” Ferrucci told The Associated Press in July. “Every single one of my laps in NASCAR has been race laps.”

Nevertheless, Ferrucci demonstrated some tantalizing potential. In a revolving-door ride — seven different drivers took two or more turns behind the wheel of the Andrew Abbott-led car — his average best lap ranking of 18.0 was the second fastest of the group. That trailed only John Hunter Nemechek (11.5), a 13-time winner in NASCAR’s national levels. Of the seven drivers, Ferrucci was the lone NASCAR neophyte in advance of this season.

While no concrete plans are in place for 2022, both driver and team have publicly stated their desires for a continued pairing.

Preston Pardus

Having championship bona fides at the grassroots levels of racing and a father who once competed in the Cup Series tends to work out well in a sport that’s far from a straightforward meritocracy. But Pardus, son of Dan, has yet to benefit from this seemingly tried-and-true path.

A national title-winner in the SCCA, the 24-year-old Pardus pounced on the Xfinity Series’ robust road course schedule in 2021 and took advantage given the resources at his disposal. Driving for independent owner Mario Gosselin, Pardus placed seventh on the Charlotte Roval, 14th at COTA and 16th at Road America before finishing 18th, and on the lead lap, in his maiden oval start at Martinsville.

Dating back to his efforts in 2020, which included an eighth-place finish at Road America, Pardus has secured five of the six best finishes for a team led by veteran crew chief Tony Furr.

Such result-getting is present in his PEER, a 1.625 mark ranked 10th and just below the 1.636 of Noah Gragson. Amazingly, Pardus pulled this off despite crashing once every two races and producing negative surplus passing values on the tracks he visited.

Whether he’s able to duplicate the rating — or expand on it, if he chooses to add ovals to next year’s curriculum — is a question worth asking. A positive answer could yield future opportunities and unearth a quality driver who developed outside of NASCAR’s traditional prospect ladder system.

Sage Karam

As a lark, Jordan Anderson Racing entered Karam, a part-time IndyCar driver and 2013 Indy Lights champion, into August’s race at Indianapolis. The result wasn’t ideal — he finished 26th after pulling off of the track with an electrical issue three laps from the finish — but his performance led to more chances.

Once hailed as “the new face of IndyCar racing” by The New York Times, the 26-year-old Karam competed in three more Xfinity Series races, two of them on ovals. He turned in a 52.16% adjusted pass efficiency (a top-20 clip) and ended his limited run with a pass differential nine spots beyond his statistical expectation. His 50% position retention rate across six non-preferred groove restarts was above average within the series, besting rates by Gragson, Burton and series champion Daniel Hemric.

To the team’s credit, Karam was slotted into two events containing practice sessions in the buildup, but to get up to speed in stock cars, more seat time will be required. Such a notion could result in a fun addition to the Xfinity Series and more permanent housing for a driver who’s had just two full seasons of racing across all motorsport disciplines in the last eight years.

NASCAR weekend schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series head to Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the 1.99-mile road course.

The Cup and Xfinity Series will take the following weekend off before the season resumes at Nashville Superspeedway. NBC and USA will broadcast each series the rest of the year, beginning at Nashville.

Sonoma Raceway

Weekend weather

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Saturday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 73 degrees. Forecast is for a high of 70 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race.

Sunday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 67 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Cup race.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)

Saturday, June 10

Garage open

  • 12 p.m. – 8 p.m.  — Cup Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 3 – 4 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 5 – 6 p.m. — Cup practice  (FS2)
  • 6 – 7 p.m. — Cup qualifying  (FS2)
  • 8 p.m. — Xfinity race (79 laps, 156.95 miles; FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, June 11

Garage open

  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup race (110 laps, 218.9 miles; Fox, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)


NASCAR penalizes Erik Jones, Legacy MC for L1 violation


NASCAR has docked Erik Jones and Legacy Motor Club 60 points and five playoff points each, suspended crew chief Dave Elenz two races and fined him $75,000 for the L1 violation discovered this week at the R&D Center. The team was found to have modified the greenhouse.

The penalty drops Jones from 26th to 30th in the standings heading into Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.

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“We have been diligently working with NASCAR regarding the penalty and are working internally to determine the course of action in response,” said Joey Cohen, vice president, race operations for Legacy MC, in a statement. “We will announce that decision within the timeframe determined by the NASCAR Rule Book.”

Cohen will serve as interim crew chief during Elenz’s suspension.

Jones’ car was among those brought to NASCAR’s R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina, after last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway.

NASCAR cited the team for violating:

Section 14.1.C: Vehicles must comply with Section 14 Vehicle and Driver Safety Specifications of the NASCAR Rule Book at all times during an Event. Failure to comply will be subject to Penalty pursuant to Section 10 Violations and Disciplinary Action.

Section 14.1.D: Except in cases explicitly permitted in the NASCAR Rules, installation of additional components, repairs, deletions, and/or modifications to Next Gen Single Source Vendor-supplied parts and/or assemblies will not be permitted.

Section 14.1.2.B: All parts and assemblies must comply with the NASCAR Engineering Change Log.

NASCAR also announced penalties Wednesday in the Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chief Andrew Abbott has been fined $5,000, Young’s Motorsports has been penalized 25 points and Chris Hacker has been docked 25 points for a violation with the team’s window net.

Crew chief Charles Denike has been fined $2,500 for a lug nut not properly installed on Christian Eckes‘ truck for TRICON Garage.

Kamui Kobayashi to make NASCAR debut with 23XI Racing at Indy

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LE MANS, France (AP) — Left out of the NASCAR celebration at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Toyota used Wednesday at the track to showcase its own stock car program and the upcoming Cup Series debut for one of the top racers in the world.

Kamui Kobayashi will make his NASCAR debut on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with Toyota in August driving for 23XI Racing, the team owned by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan.

The announcement made Wednesday had several top NASCAR executives in attendance – including chairman Jim France – as Toyota found Le Mans to be the perfect backdrop to spotlight the one-race deal.

Toyota Gazoo, after all, has won Le Mans the last five consecutive years and Kobayashi, part of the 2021 winning effort, is team principal of the two-car organization that will try to make it six straight wins in the most prestigious endurance event in the world.

Toyota had initially felt jilted when NASCAR blindsided the industry last year by announcing it would bring its new Next Gen car to centenary Le Mans in a specialized category that showcases innovation, but the project was with Chevrolet and Hendrick Motorsports. Toyota was the first rival NASCAR manufacturer to complain, and NASCAR has since tried to include all its partners in this weekend’s celebration and France signed off on holding the Kobayashi announcement at Le Mans.

It allowed Toyota to display the Camry it races in NASCAR; Kobayashi will drive the No. 67 in the Aug. 13 race. This will be the second race for the No. 67 car for 23XI Racing. Travis Pastrana finished 11th in the car at this year’s Daytona 500.

“We’ve been working on this assignment actually for a couple of years and Kamui has become a friend and we understood it was his dream one day to race in NASCAR,” said David Wilson, president of TRD, U.S.A. “With this great new Next Gen Toyota Camry TRD, the stars and planets started to align themselves and the next question became: Where should we announce this?

“It dawned on me with Kamui’s record of success, and being the team principal, to do it on this global stage at the biggest sports car race in the world.”

Kobayashi will be only the second Japanese driver to race in NASCAR’s top Cup Series and only the fifth to race in one of NASCAR’s top three national series. Kobayashi will be the first driver from Japan to race in the Cup Series in a Toyota, which entered NASCAR’s top series in 2007.

“It’s my dream, actually,” Kobayashi told The Associated Press. “It’s such a big sport in the United States and racing in Europe, I never had the chance or opportunity to race NASCAR. I think the opportunity will be challenging for myself because it is such a different category.

“But if I have success, I think it will make more opportunities for Japanese drivers. Toyota has been in NASCAR a long time, but there has never been any Japanese drivers for Toyota. That’s also why I say I appreciate this opportunity for myself.”

Kobayashi won the 24 Hours of Le Mans for Toyota in 2021 and hasn’t finished lower than third since 2018. He has six podium finishes in eight appearances in the iconic endurance race.

Toyota trails only Bentley, Jaguar, Ferrari, Audi and Porsche for most wins at Le Mans. Porsche holds the record with 19 victories.

Kobayashi in 2021, after winning Le Mans and the World Endurance Championship title driving for Toyota Gazoo, was named team principal.

Kobayashi started his racing career karting in Japan but was discovered by Toyota while racing in Europe. He was named one of Toyota’s reserve Formula One drivers and made his debut during the 2009 season at the Brazilian Grand Prix. He raced in F1 through 2014 with one podium finish in 75 career starts.

Following his F1 career, Kobayashi returned to Japan and switched to the Super Formula Series, a class he still actively competes in. He’s since won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice and was the anchor on an IMSA endurance sports car team in the United States for two seasons that was formed by seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson.

Kobayashi loves racing in the United States, but IMSA’s adoption of new regulations to make its top class eligible to compete at Le Mans created a conflict of interest between Kobayashi’s Toyota responsibilities and continuing to race in IMSA, where Toyota is not represented in the top class. Toyota does field a Lexus in a lower IMSA division and Kobayashi raced for Vasser Sullivan Racing last June in Canada to get a feel for the GT car.

Many consider NASCAR’s Next Gen car to be very similar to the GT Lexus sports car that Kobayashi drove in IMSA last year, and that’s his closest experience to driving a stock car. He’ll be permitted to test with 23XI at a small track in Virginia ahead of the race at Indianapolis, and expects some time on the simulator.

Either way, he isn’t worried about seat time.

“I think I’m a guy who doesn’t need much practice, to be honest,” the 36-year-old Kobayashi told the AP. “I think once we jump in the car, we will be OK in a couple of laps. So I’m not really concerned about form.”

Drivers to watch at Sonoma Raceway


This weekend begins a key period for Cup drivers. Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway begins a stretch of four road course events in the next 10 races. The race to make the playoffs and to score playoff points is intensifying.


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Circuit of the Americas)
  • Past at Sonoma: Does not have a top 15 in two previous starts

Reddick has won three of the last five Cup races on road courses, but Sonoma has been his kryptonite. He has yet to lead a lap there. Reddick’s three road course wins have been at Road America, Indianapolis and COTA.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 28th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Fontana)
  • Past at Sonoma: Four top 10s, including a runner-up, in six starts

Elliott returns to the series after sitting out last weekend’s race at WWT Raceway due to suspension. He’s in a must-win situation to make the playoffs. Known for his prowess on road courses, Elliott’s last win at such a track came in 2021 at Road America. In the nine races at road courses since that win, Elliott has two runner-up finishes and six top 10s.

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 7th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Fontana, Talladega I, WWT Raceway)
  • Past at Sonoma: Had six straight finishes of seventh or better before placing 30th last year

Busch is tied with William Byron for the most wins this season with three. Busch has placed in the top three in the last two road course races. He has led in five of the last seven Sonoma Cup races. He is a two-time Sonoma winner, taking the checkered flag in 2008 and ’15.


Denny Hamlin 

  • Points position: 8th
  • Best finish this season: 1st (Kansas I)
  • Past at Sonoma: Five consecutive top 10s until finishing 31st last year

Hamlin has not had a top-10 finish at a road course in the Next Gen car. He has an 18.4 average finish at road courses since last season. His best finish at a road course in that time is 13th at the Charlotte Roval.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 5th
  • Best finish this season: 2nd (Dover)
  • Past at Sonoma: Two straight top-10 finishes

Chastain lost the points lead last weekend after his third consecutive finish outside the top 20. His fourth-place finish at Circuit of the Americas this season broke a streak of three consecutive finishes outside the top 20 at road courses.

Chris Buescher

  • Points position: 13th
  • Best finish this season: 3rd (Talladega I)
  • Past at Sonoma: His runner-up finish last year was his first top 10 there in six starts

Until last year, Sonoma had not been kind to Buescher. He enters this weekend have scored six consecutive top 10s at road courses.